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Turning back the clock

Brian Taylor | 15:46 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Does Scotland need a full-time Secretary of State in the UK Cabinet?

Probably not. Yet such a prospect has now been revived.

Media speculation has it that Gordon Brown might consider such a move.

The expectation has long been in the other direction - that the post of Scottish Secretary would vanish altogether, perhaps subsumed within a new department for dealing with the devolved territories.

So what has changed? Scotland has an SNP First Minister. Labour lore has it that he wants watching. Hence the suggestion in some quarters that the post of Scottish Secretary, presently part time, might rediscover its past glory.

Again, though, would Scotland – as opposed to the Labour Party – benefit from such a development?

Commenting this afternoon on questions to the present SofS at Westminster, I was again struck by the inevitable constraints upon the role.

Douglas Alexander, who doubles as Transport Secretary, has no responsibility, as a matter of course, for devolved matters.

At one point, indeed, he invited an opposition MP to take his complaint to the First Minister - who possessed the power to act.

I am not remotely blaming the estimable Mr Alexander for this - he is merely reflecting constitutional reality.

So, given the paucity of responsibilities, why would Scotland again need a full-time SofS?

Turning the issue round, I am also sceptical about Alex Salmond’s demands for the full panoply of Joint Ministerial Committees with Westminster to be revived. (Or, more accurately, vived – since they never worked in the first place.)

It is argued that this structure would prevent Megrahi-style “misunderstandings” between Westminster and the devolved territories. I hae ma doots.

Rather, it is eminently possible that the JMCs would meet, would log endless minutes - but that the bureaucratic guddle / political bungle which attended the Megrahi row would be repeated.

Arguably, it would give Scottish Ministers a forum in which to protest / grandstand.

But would it really pre-empt such controversies in future?

Is it not arguable that what is needed is not a grand over-arching design but a low-level commitment to communicate on the ground?

To build and sustain links, refreshing these for each successive tranche of Ministers and civil servants?

The updated Memorandum of Understanding which confirmed the JMCs in 2002 noted that it was not a legally binding agreement. “It is intended to be binding in honour only.” Quite.


  • 1.
  • At 05:58 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Without Scotland being allotted their full entitlement of the Cabinet representation, that of a Secretary of State, would permit supporters of independence to proffer the case that Scotland was being considered as not being a full member of the United Kingdom; not the stance you would expect from such an outspoken Unionist such as Gordon Brown, hence the possibility of this change to Government under his leadership. Gordon Brown may be proposing such a Cabinet change as his first move in his plan to counter the independence argument.

The cynic in me also sees that a Secretary of Scotland could be installed as a ‘go between’ Westminster and Holyrood, thus permitting the sitting Prime Minister to avoid having to interface regularly with the First Minister.

History has shown us that it is so often meaningless or unconstructive to have a full time Secretary of State for Scotland; in recent history, George Younger, Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Lang, Michael Forsyth, Donald Dewar, John Reid, Helen Liddell, Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander, these individuals had and have loyalties which have taken priority over Scotland’s best interests.
Each of these individuals has been prepared to do the bidding and the dirty work of their London masters in order that their own political careers are/were advanced.

A special mention must be made for Malcolm (Judas) Rifkind who sold Rosyth jobs for votes in the South East of England and Gordon Campbell, who as Secretary of State for Scotland during the whole of Edward Heath's government and told Edward Heath he would be wrong to commit to his proposal to let Scotland have all the oil revenues from the Scottish sector of the North Sea.

  • 2.
  • At 06:44 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • fred wrote:

It all depends how seriously the SNP want to make devolution work - if they don't, and it seems on current from they are more interested in causing rows, then a full time Secretary of State or JMCs on every issue will simply be used as a stage for another tantrum to seek to justify the cause of independence. I don't blame them, that is the reality of their politics and by dint of the Scottish people's disastifaction with Labour that is what (albeit as a minority) they have been given the chance to do.

  • 3.
  • At 07:28 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Colin wrote:

"Scotland has an SNP First Minister. Labour lore has it that he wants watching."

Another case of Labour's refusal to accept the constitutional reality that they themselves created. One wonders if, through a combination of hubris and stupidity, they really did believe that Scotland was an eternal Labour stronghold. If that were true, the institution of the Scottish Parliament would exist, but would always be ruled by the whim of Labour south of the border.

"I hae ma doots."

Nice to see a bit of the Scots language appearing on Auntie's internet pages. Was this intentional, Brian? Perhaps you can convince some more of your colleagues to promote "wir ain leid"?

  • 4.
  • At 07:41 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Conway wrote:

If anything we need a minister to be a link between Scotland,Nothern Ireland ,England and Wales not a minister for each country.
Oh and we could involve the Isle of Man a British protectorate but very independent of the UK.Speaking of the Isle of Man isnt the political agreement between them and the UK not what the Lib Dems would like for the whole UK.

  • 5.
  • At 08:58 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

What might be more useful would be for the 3 devolved governments to set up regular meetings with each other - with a standing invitation for the UK to attend, should they wish. That would guarantee UK attendance so that they could check up on what the Celts are up to!

  • 6.
  • At 10:55 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • derek barker wrote:

Holding back the years,as the snp slap the lib dems right in the puss,an end to graduation tax;well J.Wallace never got the chance to be that good;Hmmmmmm! a secertary of state for Scotland;the first minister has blown the cob-webs from McConnell's desk and he doing the thing's that the Scottish people want.steady Gordon it appears there is a real labour man in charge now! and he is keeping marked time;"BY THE LEFT FALL IN"

  • 7.
  • At 12:18 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Peter Thomson wrote:

Having watched Douglas Alexander tonight there is only one possible set of questions - Why is he there, what is his purpose, why is he a benefit to Scotland - remind who he is apart from Wendy's brother?

The only reason for his retention can be to increase Alex Salmonds' position of strength.

Brian do you not think that Wee Eck is simply pulling Westminster's chain about these committees as the more they concede the better Wee Eck looks; the less they concede the better Wee Eck looks?

It is surely a loose - loose position for Westminster after the Libyan debacle - no matter what they do.

"arguably it would give Scottish misisters a forum in which to protest/grandstand".

Got it in one Brian! Is that not exactly what the Big Fish, the Wee Fish and the little minties would want? They need forums in which they can be seen "standing up for Scotland" or as you more accurately describe it "grandstand".

Sorry, I have of course as yet no evidence to call the minties "misisters" as we have yet to see the cut of their financial jib. mintie ministers they are and shall remain until that time.

  • 10.
  • At 07:37 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • BryanMcC wrote:


we`re in extremely interesting if uncharted political territory here. Gordon Brown`s London Labour have more to lose than Wee Eck in Embra from a relationship that isn`t perceived to fair and equal; they underestimate Alex at their peril.
Best thing wee Doogie Alexander can do to help maintain cordial relations is to keep his mobile switched on for a call from his big sister.


  • 11.
  • At 09:53 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • willie wrote:

I saw Alexander last night and someone should tell him the result of the Election. His arrogance (very similar to his sister's) can only help the cause of the SNP. Keep him in this non-job and let him be seen as the waste of money he is.

  • 12.
  • At 12:59 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Rab wrote:

Well let's see. Now do we really want another Secretary of State for Scotland??

I think not. I suggest, rather than finding purile and devisive means to find holes in the Scottish Parliament, it's politicians and the will of the people, Mr Brown finds a means to defend his shaky unionist beliefs.

He's already (publicly) stated he wouldn't work with Alex Salmond and IIRC, stated he would do all in his power to stop any break up of the UK....then again, his budget change to income tax will indeed affect (in a negative manner) more than half of his OWN poorest constituents.

Perhaps, Pa Broon needs to take a wee look at himself and see whom he thinks he is kidding, what he really wishes to achieve by regurgitating an old and tired role (Secretary of State) and perhaps, just perhaps, he sould engage his mind somewhat further than the guarantee of South East England votes.

The truth is, the SNP fought a fair and well balanced campaign. They were helped no end by Mr Brown and Mr Blair and to the detriment of Mr McConnell, who is now out of a First Minister's Post.......the SNP won the election and for this, I am happy - they were helped no end by the fine upstanding gentleman and women known as the Labour Party.

  • 13.
  • At 01:56 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Brian, I would be careful of drawing too much attention to this idea - Labour may well be looking for a new job for Peter Hain if he doesn't get the Deputy Leader job.

His 'previous form' as Northern Ireland and Wales 'Secretary of State' may lead Gordon Brown to set him up for a hat-trick.

Be careful what you wish for...

  • 14.
  • At 04:37 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Anne wrote:

Willie, I too watched Douglas Alexander and he really lived up to his reputation of smugness and talking nonsense. Can't see anything in what he said would ever convince me that he would put the interests of Scotland before his own party. In that case, I am sooo glad we have Alex Salmond as First Minister.

PS Loved the way Mundell wellied into Alexander over the lack of courtesy to the First Minister. Mundell was excellent.

  • 15.
  • At 05:40 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • cassbhoy wrote:

So like Lazarus the post of full-time Scottish Secretary may be revived. I just cannot get my head around this. Are Labour trying to scratch back some control because they are no in opposition in Scotland. Does wee Eck and his cabinet need closer monitoring, or is it a case that the ever-so-generous governing party at Westminster want to make communication and cooperation easier. I subscribe to he notion that there should be a minister for devolved parliaments covering NI, Scotland, Wales - oxymoron, but a kind of domestic "foreign" affairs office.

The full-time Scottish Secretary's new job should be as follows:

(1) To collaborate with the Minister of State for Europe to ensure that Scotland gain an "extraordinary" autonomous voice in the EU (as a country and a devolved State).


(2) To work with the Foreign Minister and international agencies to ensure that Scotland gains an "extraordinary" seat at the UN.

Unless these deals can be brokered, then devolution will remain fragmented and stunted.

The only people offering the Scots such ambitions is the SNP with independence being the route to achieving the two aforementioned goals.

Salmond has been criticised for indulging in hyperhole, but... he has to do what he has to do.

I think that he needs to make more use as Nicola Sturgeon more in order to provide a warmer fuzzier, front in order to counterbalance his very direct and almost clinical style of confrontation. Eck, if your reading, get Nicky more noticed by your side!

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